Rethinking Early Photography

Larry J. Schaaf, director of the William Henry Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné under the Bodleian Library, spoke at the recent conference Rethinkng Early Photography held at the University of Lincoln. That talk has been posted on YouTube and focuses on the authorship of a particular photogenic drawing much in the news lately.

The abstract for Schaaf’s talk entitled “The Damned Leaf: Musings on History, Hysteria, and Historiography,” reads in part

“In 1984, a Victorian family album was broken up, dividing its contents among specialist departments at Sotheby’s in London. It had belonged to Henry Bright, initially confused with a watercolourist by the same name, but soon identified as an East India Merchant. A related group of six early photographs was split into individual lots acquired by several purchasers. In 2008, Sotheby’s in New York prepared one of these photographs for sale. Traditionally identified as being by the inventor of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot, it was an enigmatic contact negative (photogram) of a single leaf. I knew right away it was not by Talbot—sadly—for it was gorgeous, but this news came as a shock to the owner and to the auctioneers. ‘If not Talbot, then who could it possibly be?’ came back the question, and I volunteered a one-page essay suggesting possible dating and authorships. One bookend was Henry Bright himself in the 1860s, with several figures in between, finally ranging back to Thomas Wedgwood around 1800.”

More about Talbot and Schaaf can be found on his blog The video, also posted at British Photographic History, is thanks to Dr. Owen Clayton, the conference organizer, and Adam O’Meara, videographer.turning_leafSee similar photogenic drawings in an album compiled by Richard Willats, held at Princeton University: Permanent Link: